Eugene Wolsk, a producer of Broadway and Off Broadway shows, general manager in the 1970s of the New York Shakespeare Festival, and devoted man about Montauk, died last Thursday at 84.
Mr. Wolsk fell in love with the stage as a student at Allegheny College. “I set out to be a physicist, but was stopped cold in my sophomore year by partial differential equations,” he wrote in a memoir submitted to The Star last year. The memoir was all set for publication when he wrote and asked that it be withdrawn, saying he didn’t want to seem to be “boasting.”
Having abandoned physics in his sophomore year, he began spending time with friends in the drama department. On the stage of the theater, he wrote, “I had an epiphany that really changed my life. In that three-sided box one could create anything, anybody, anyplace, anytime. Warm in summer, cool in winter. That thought was exciting and theater became what I wanted.”
Mr. Wolsk went on to the Yale School of Drama, where he spent a year and a half studying directing before deciding it was not for him. He left to join the Army, and was sent with the 45th Infantry Division to Korea before being discharged in 1953. Years of temp work and managing summer stock productions followed until, in 1962, he got his first big career break, when the theatrical legend David Merrick hired him as a “company” manager, one rung below general manager.
A recent tribute in Playbill magazine recognized Mr. Wolsk as “a member of a generation of general managers in the 1960s who graduated to the role of producer.” After four years with the Merrick organization, he left to co-produce “The Lion in Winter,” which starred Robert Preston and Rosemary Harris. Later, he was Joseph Papp’s general manager of choice for the annual Shakespeare productions in Central Park, and he eventually produced or co-produced 17 shows altogether, both drama and musicals, on and off Broadway. Among them were “Mark Twain Tonight!” with Hal Holbrook, Neil Simon’s “The Sunshine Boys,” and acclaimed revivals of “Man of La Mancha” and “Fiddler on the Roof.” One of his last and most successful shows was the Off Broadway musical revue “Forever Plaid,” which ran for more than 1,800 performances through the early ’90s.
“If you had invested $1,000 in each of the shows I produced,” Mr. Wolsk wrote in his memoir, “you would have ended up with a small profit. That, I am proud of.”
Mr. Wolsk and his wife of 30 years, Laura Stein, who survives, moved to Montauk year round about 20 years ago. Passionately committed, as he said, to “keeping Montauk Montauk,” he almost immediately joined the board of the Concerned Citizens of Montauk. “Here was a man who had produced many award-winning Broadway shows who eagerly jumped at the chance to cook hot dogs for Montauk kids . . . or to pull garbage out of Fort Pond,” Bill Akin of C.C.O.M. wrote in a letter to the editor published in this issue. “No matter what the job, Gene was there. He got things done.”
Born in Brooklyn on Aug. 16, 1928, to Isidore and Paulia Wolsk, Mr. Wolsk grew up and attended schools in Freeport. His marriages to Cynthia Harris and Judith Carol Licht ended in divorce. Besides Ms. Stein, he leaves two nieces and five grandnieces and grandnephews.
Funeral services were held on Tuesday at Riverside Memorial Chapel in New York City. Friends gathered afterward at the Manhattan home of Jerry Della Femina and Ms. Licht, with whom Mr. Wolsk and Ms. Stein remained friendly through the years.
Memorial contributions have been suggested to the Concerned Citizens of Montauk through its Web site, preservemontauk.org.